The unconstitutionality of defaulting on U.S. debt... irrelevant?

Some people say that it is unconstitutional for the United States to default on its national debt.

I say that the constitutionality of such a thing is irrelevant. Why? Because Congressional approval is needed to extend the limit by which the U.S. can go into debt and all Congress needs to do is refuse to authorize the extension. The extension can be blocked by a single chamber; the way things are going, this is likely to be the House of Representatives in 2011, when the Republican majority takes power.*

The U.S. Supreme Court could order Congress to approve a raising of the debt limit, but Congress could also continue to refuse to do so. The Supreme Court lacks the power to send police into Capitol Hill and force the House of Representatives into approving such a thing. Without that power, the hypothetical unconstitutionality of not approving the raising of the debt limit is irrelevant. If the Republicans have the balls to do what Michael Steele himself has said they will do - namely, fight a debt limit increase to the death - it simply will not happen.

So, if the Republicans absolutely refuse to authorize an increase in the debt limit, how can the Constitution force them to make it happen? What power does anyone have to force them to comply?

You say: “The U.S. Supreme Court could order Congress to approve a raising of the debt limit, but Congress could also continue to refuse to do so. The Supreme Court lacks the power to send police into Capitol Hill and force the House of Representatives into approving such a thing. Without that power, the hypothetical unconstitutionality of not approving the raising of the debt limit is irrelevant.”
I want to make sure I understand this. You are saying that because the supreme court lacks the power to send enforcers to the legislative assemblies, the opinion of the SCOTUS regarding the constitutionality of a matter is irrelevant. Is this accurate?

IIRC, in '95 when the ceiling wasn’t raised the gov’t shutdown non-essential services in order to continue serving the debt. I suspect the same thing would happen if the present day GOP attempted the same trick. So the US still won’t default.

I don’t think the GOP will actually try it though. They had a stronger hand in '95 and it still blew up in their face, its hard to imagine they’d make the same mistake.

It’s not so much that it’s irrelevant as much as it would lead to a constitutional crisis. Because then whoever is responsible for implementing the increase would be caught between the Congress and the Court. Most likely it is true that they would side with Congress since they pay them and most likely control the police, but whenever you have to bandy about terms “most likely”, and “police” when talking about obeying the court system, you pretty much have a constitutional crisis no matter what the outcome of the particular case you’re talking about.

That’s true of everything the Supreme Court decides, though. If everyone else just decides to ignore the Supreme Court, they don’t have any good way to enforce compliance.

Okay, you win.

It’s relevant.

Much like the Maginot Line was relevant to the Nazis waltzengrüven into Belgium.

In short I am saying that the Supreme Court’s powers are so laughably ineffective that it rises to the level of irrelevance.

And yet, people still obey SCOTUS rulings.

Indeed. My point exactly. The Supreme Court usually can achieve enforcement of compliance for the same reason you can take a five dollar bill to any American Starbuck’s and get a (small) latte. As Simplicio just said; people choose to obey the rules.

But now we have a very very very rare potential situation on our hands where the incoming Republican majority in the House could refuse to accept their “Constitutional duty” to raise the debt ceiling and, when challenged, tell (not by their words but by their actions) tell the Supreme Court to stuff it.

As Ludovic said, we’d have a Constitutional crisis on our hands: who has the legal power to approve a debt ceiling increase if the House of Representatives absolutely refuses to do it?

But as Simplicio also said: it’s not certain that they will man-up and follow through on their threats. They’ll probably scare America with a loud roar and a lot of foot stomping and then back down. If not, though… we got a problem. And worse yet, so do other nations… especially all of Asia.

Again, even if the GOP doesn’t raise the debt ceiling, that won’t cause a default, they gov’t will just cut back on other services so that money remains available to service the debt. But they’ll send out IOUs in lieu of Social Security checks before they start defaulting on publicly held Treasury Bonds. The SCOTUS won’t be involved, even if it was constitutional, the concequences of default are to dire for any administration to try it.

IOU’s in place of social security checks? Forget a Constitutional crisis. It won’t be that nice.

For starters, the AARP will demand that each and every voter under its command must come back with 100 Republican scalps. And they’ll want their scalps.

That and this won’t come back to bite the Administration. This won’t be Obama’s fault. It’ll be squarely on the Republicans’ heads.

Yes, which is why it isn’t a problem. People aren’t going to defy the Supreme Court, even if they don’t like what it says, because nowadays, you just don’t do that.

Maybe it’s just late. But I’m not seeing how refusing to extend the debt limit equates with defaulting on the national debt.

The debt already exists. The government has already borrowed and spent the money. If the government refused to pay off treasury bonds as they came due, that would be defaulting on a debt.

But extending the debt limit is a seperate issue. It’s just authorization to sell more treasury bonds and borrow some more money.

That’s not a guarantee. You do recall Andrew Jackson’s alleged response to John Marshall, right?

Congress can also become deadlocked over the budget. And I do mean deadlocked.

Sending out IOUs for social security benefits would need to go on for years in order to make up for a budget shortfall resulting from refusing to raise the debt ceiling. Considering the 400 BILLION dollar deficit that the deficit hawks are looking at right now in a best case scenario we’re looking at stopping more than HALF of all SS payments (688 billion according to the debt clock). You do that and you’ll have much worse than a default to worry about.

But it won’t get that far because public pressure will crush the GOP first.

Which is all interesting but has nothing to do with what I asked.

How does not borrowing more money have an affect on existing debt?

John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it!

You don’t get it? Congress can get deadlocked over the budget. And I mean deadlocked.

Let me explain what this means. As Simplicio said, the first move would be to try and pay off the existing debt by issuing IOUs for Social Security benefits. This is the first salvo in a long round of what you might know as severe austerity cuts.

You saw the riots in Greece? It’ll be worse here. First it’ll start with the AARP. The Democrats are guaranteed to grow a spine when it comes to social security - but if not, they’ll be pushed by the AARP. They will fight the Republicans to the death over SS benefit IOUs, to say nothing of outright benefits cuts. You can bet your ass on that.

So with that avenue closed, they’ll have to turn elsewhere for cuts. The military? Medicare benefits? You have vast amounts of opposition to that.

In short, nobody will agree on a budget.

The effect is nothing will get paid. Not even the debt. Congress will be too deadlocked to come up with a budget.

Defaulting on sovereign debt is a very ugly business. Any government would cut welfare, pensions and close the schools before it defaulted.

Why, most governments would even close down the national health service before defaulting. :wink:

We are a nation of laws, our republic depends on it.

But you didn’t start a thread about “Congress will get deadlocked over the budget” or “Congress will have to cut Social Security benefits”. You started a thread in which you claimed there’s going to be a Constitutional crisis because Congress is going to defy the Supreme Court.

Are you claiming that the Supreme Court will order Congress to produce a budget by a certain date? Or that the Supreme Court will find that Social Security benefits are a Constitutional right? What part of the Constitution do you feel covers this?

I cannot think of a single Supreme Court ruling (or other ruling) that suggests the courts have the power to force Congress to pass any type of legislation. They can rule Congressional acts unconstitutional, but that is a very different thing from forcing Congress to pass legislation (which is required to raise the debt ceiling).